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A Mother’s Fight with Mesothelioma

9 Jul

The Year My Dad Went Bald welcomes a guest blog from Heather Von St. James. Heather is a mesothelioma survivor who was diagnosed three months after the birth of her daughter. Since her recovery she works to offer a message of courage, inspiration and hope to those diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer through advocacy and awareness. This is her story.

A Mother’s Fight with Mesothelioma

If there’s one phrase that’s thrown around a lot during hard times, it’s “it takes a village.” What the phrase means is that in order to get through hardships, it takes a “village” of people – such as friends and family – to help you through it. Although it may be trite, it’s a phrase I’ve really come to believe in; if it hadn’t been for my village, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here today.
The first time that I realized the importance of my village was during my pregnancy. With no complications except for an emergency C-section, the pregnancy was very normal. Despite its normalcy, however, all pregnancies aren’t free of hardships. Thankfully, my “village” – my parents, my husband and his family, and our friends – were helping and supporting me every step of the way, even on the delivery room on August 4, 2005. With everyone so happy that day, nothing could have possibly prepared us for the storm looming on the horizon.

Needless to say, this wouldn’t be the last time my village would need to help me.

About a month or so after I returned to work, I began to feel numerous symptoms that are typical of being a new mother: I was breathless, tired, and had no energy to spare. However, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that there was something else causing my symptoms. As a result, I called my doctor to see what was up. After a few tests, we finally got to the root of the problem.
On November 21, 2005, my doctor diagnosed me with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs. One of the leading causes of mesothelioma is asbestos, which I had apparently come into contact with 30 years ago as a child. After all this time, it came back to haunt me.

Given only 15 months to live, I knew I had to seek treatment fast. My survival, however, wasn’t just about me: It was also about preventing my husband and daughter from having to live alone and deal with my death. Choosing the most drastic option available, my husband and I left our home in Minnesota, and my mother took Lily with her to my childhood home in South Dakota so that I could undergo treatment in Boston. Upon arrival in Boston, I underwent a procedure known as an extrapleural pneumonectomy, which resulted in the removal

of my left lung and all of its surrounding tissue. After that, I faced a recovery period of over two months, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

After several months of fighting, I came out alive and cancer-free. Although my survival is mainly attributed to the skill and expertise of Dr. David Sugarbaker, my village played a major role as well. If it wasn’t for the love and support of my friends and family, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be alive today. My husband and I formed our own little village in Boston. We met some other amazing families who were going through the same thing as we were, and we all supported each other in our fights. Having these people there with me, going through the same things as we were made all the difference in the world for it. It was comforting to have people to talk to and rely on for support.  My parents had their own village in South Dakota, which helped them in the transition from becoming grandparents to full time caregivers.  Little girls who I had babysat when I was a teenager were grown with families of their own and helped to babysit Lily when my parents worked and people from the church growing up gave so much support to my parents during that time.  It’s amazing how love and support can make such a significant difference!

Cancer, although deadly, is a funny thing: While it throws a lot of bad things your way, from those bad things come a lot of good things as well. Because of this, we as a family embrace both the good and the bad in life, knowing that something good will come either way.

Heather Von St James is a 43-year-old wife and mother. Upon her diagnosis of mesothelioma, she vowed to be a source of hope for other patients who found themselves with the same diagnosis. Now, over 6 years later, her story has been helping people all over the globe. She continues her advocacy and awareness work by blogging, speaking and sharing her message of hope and healing with others. Check out more of her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

A Great First Year!

29 Mar

With the taxes paid and 2011 officially behind us (in a fiscal sense) I was happy to make a donation to the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society and Hockey Fights Cancer from the proceeds of sales of “The Year My Dad Went Bald.” They are great organizations and we are proud to be in partnership with them. I also want to thank everyone whose support made the book a success beyond my wildest dreams. I have met so many great people who are doing so much to fight cancer and look forward to another great year.

Back to School

27 Feb

I guess I made a good impression. Was invited back by Maryanna D. Klatt. Ph.D.
Assistant Professor Clinical Allied Medicine to speak to her “The Evolving Art and Science of Medicine” class at The Ohio State University about “The Year My Dad Went Bald,” and the healing process that went along with the creation of the book for the second year in a row. It was a great class with lots insightful  questions from the students. I look forward to visiting the class again next year. Also was honored to meet co-speaker Mary Fisher who is helping the fight against cancer with her Grateful Hearts Designs. She makes and sells wonderful mittens from recycled sweaters and all proceeds benefit the Arthur James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Check them out at

On The Road

7 Feb

The Year My Dad Went Bald hits the road this weekend to Findlay, Ohio. We were invited by  Carol Metzger-Sturgeon of Cancer Patient Services to sign books at hockey tournament on Sunday February 12. The tourney which features two adult teams from Marathon Petroleum Corporation will be played at the Cube Ice Rink, 3430 N Main Street in Findlay. The chance to meet some new folks who are helping in the  fight against cancer and watch some great hockey sounds like a perfect way to spend at Sunday afternoon. We will be there starting at 5 pm.

Pinch Hitter

31 Jan

Change in plans for Thursday’s “Evening with an Author Brian Kraft” at The Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center
I have to unexpectedly be out of town for a funeral this week, but I am pleased that Nicole Kraft and Danny Kraft are filling in for me. I am more than confident that they will do a fantastic job. They will be sharing from “The Year My Dad Went Bald” and our experiences with cancer. The event will be February 2 6–8p.m at The Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center 1145 Olentangy River Road
For more info call (614)293-6428 or visit

TYMDWB Brings Home a Medal

8 Nov

The Year My Dad Went Bald is now an officially an award-winning book. I always thought it was pretty great, but now I have the hardware to prove it. The book was a bronze medalist in the “Best First Book” category of the 2011 Moonbeam Childrens Book Awards. I am honored to receive this award and thank everyone who supported the project. What a great start, this is my first book and hopefully last about having cancer.

This year’s Moonbeam Awards medal ceremony will be held in conjunction with the 2nd annual Traverse City Children’s Book Festival, to be held on Saturday, November 12, 2011. For more info check them out on Facebook at

Evening with Children’s Author at the James

9 Oct

The James Cancer Center at The Ohio State University has been a great supporter of The Year My Dad Went Bald since it was published. The JamesCare for Life support program has been using the book to help families and it is a great honor to be involved in their great program. Needless to say, I am very excited to be a part of their Fall class programming.

On October 25, the James will present An Evening with Children’s Author featuring yours truly. I will be presenting The Year My Dad Went Bald, sharing my story and there will be a panel discussion for question and answers. The event runs from 6-8 pm and it should be a great evening. If you or someone you know are interested call JamesCare for Life at 614-293-6428 for information or visit them on the web.

Bear Essentials

31 Aug

Whenever I see a copy of “The Year My Dad Went Bald” go out to a cancer care center it is great to make a connection with the directors and staff of the facilities. I am amazed at all of the great work they do to help families facing cancer. Cancer care centers are using innovative techniques like art therapy and other family activities to help kids (and parents) best deal with a cancer diagnosis. I am proud that TYMDWB has become a tool to help educate and assist. Barbara Goldberg of the  Bear Essentials Support Group for Children at the Missouri Baptist Cancer Center in St. Louis was kind enough to write.

“The Year My Dad Went Bald” by Brian Kraft is a must read for families dealing with a diagnosis of cancer.  It is a universal story of hope,
courage and inspiration. Told through the perspective of a young boy, it gracefully guides children through a scary and sometimes unpredictable situation with with, sensitivity and truth.

As the coordinator of a support group for children who have a loved one battling cancer, I have found “The Year My Dad Went Bald” to be a wonderful resource.  I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals.”

Thanks to Barbara Goldberg and all those who strive to make life a little better for families in need.

Feeding the starving artists

8 Jul

I always get people telling me how brave I am for facing down cancer, which I don’t really get. What other choice did I have? To me people who go out on a ledge and express themselves creatively or artistically are the courageous ones. What is it that compels someone to put out a song, story or piece of art that is strong enough to offset the fear of negative reaction or judgment. Upon the publication of The Year My Dad Went Bald, I noticed that the first people lining up to purchase were creative types that I knew. Musicians, Pat and Linda Dull, (Pat Dull and Media Whores, Betty Machete and the Angry Cougars) Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks, Gaunt, The Sun, Your So Bossy and drummer for just about every good band in this town) Matt Reber of the Wexner Book Store and Phillip Fox have all been great supporters. Author Charles Leerhsen (check out his great new book Blood and Smoke, which is about the first Indy 500) was one of the first purchasers on our Amazon site.

Ken Eppstein publisher of Nix Comics Quarterly has taken to Facebook to help get the word out about some of the great things happening around town and Ohio with his “30 Days of Shilling for My Friends” which he highlights projects currently being produced by folks that he knows. What a cool idea. I was honored to be a part of it, and hope to do my part by supporting other folks.

I am sure that I have left somebody out in the haste of banging out this post, but do your part and help them by feeding a starving or thirsty artist today

Give it up for the Caregivers

30 Jun

Often overlooked in the battle against cancer is the devastating effect it can have on family and friends. I know I would have been sunk without the unwavering support of my wife Nicki, son Danny and our community of friends. Driving to chemo, making sure you are taking your meds and  yes, even holding back your hair when your are barfing (not a problem for me I had short hair before I went bald) are part of the many thankless jobs caregivers can take on when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer.

These added burdens can takes it toll and it is important for caregivers to take care of themselves as well.

Shelly Francis has an excellent website, which is invaluable resource for caregivers or as they now also call them, co-survivors. According to the website, “Over 50 million family caregivers are taking care of a loved one in the United States due to chronic illness, disability and injury. Three of four families will find themselves caring for a cancer patient.” If you or someone you know has found themselves in a caregiver role, check out the website, it full of great resources including a list of publications that “The Year My Dad Went Bald” is now proud to be a part of. More importantly, Francis’ website is a wonderful source of inspiration and encouragement for those who are so important in the healing process.